30th March 2003
Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003
Bairbre de Brún MLA opening the Equality and Human Right debate
"From the outset of negotiations that lead to the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein put on record our position that comprehensive, systematic, effective and entrenched protection of human rights - civil, political, economic, social and cultural - must underpin any new institutions and structures. We also stressed that particular attention must be paid to the protection of the rights and identity of any community that finds itself in a minority position. That remains our position in respect of both present and future constitutional arrangements. One thing that the period from partition has proved is that exclusion, discrimination and inequality do not work.
Resistance to the implementation of commitments on equality and human rights in the Good Friday Agreement, however, remains a problem. We must acknowledge that resistance if we are to overcome it. Having raised this issue consistently in the Assembly, now, once again, Sinn Fein has put Equality and Human Rights high on the current talks agenda. Equality and Human Rights must be at the heart of any successful implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We want to see substantive movement on social and economic equality, the rights of vulnerable communities, language rights, victims and the process for taking forward work on a Bill of Rights.
A concrete foundation for all of this is state institutions which are . acceptable . representative of the community as a whole, at all levels and in all their functions . providing equality of treatment for the community as a whole.
We need equality and representativeness not only in the political institutions but in government departments, the judiciary and legal system, the police and public services.
We need to see timetabled monitored measures to eliminate the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities and we need to see economic development targeted towards areas of greatest need. We also need to see the protection and vindication of human rights and particularly the rights of vulnerable communities. And we need effective mechanisms to restore momentum to the implementation of the rights and equality agenda so that equality gained becomes equality sustained.
To achieve equality, we need to pay particular attention to the economic roots of inequality. The failure to implement key areas of the Good Friday Agreement will frustrate this. This is unacceptable. We need to see investment in areas of greatest need, both unionist and nationalist using the detailed information we have on deprivation as well as drawing on the information gleaned from the recent census figures. We need to focus on areas that have been consistently let down by the promise of change in the past. If we cannot break the cycle in those areas, then it won't happen at all.
We need renewed momentum in efforts to eliminate the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities, and research funded to evaluate policies to date and their implementation.
Efforts to deal with structural inequalities can include:
. location of jobs, including public service jobs
. use of procurement
. location of investment
. building of local infrastructure to allow areas to compete for investment
. measures to tackle the benefit trap
We also need to guarantee safety in the workplace, thus overcoming the 'chill factor' associated with fear for one's safety in certain workplaces.
Much of the emphasis in public debate has been on integrated housing or integrated education. If we wish to build a truly pluralist society, however, we also need integrated workplaces throughout the north. Institutionalised inequality must be tackled so that our people irrespective of creed or political opinion are afforded equality in all aspects of their lives.
There are significant political barriers to creating the Ireland of equals that represents our vision for the Ireland of tomorrow. They are barriers that demand that we build new alliances and partnerships with others that feel the same passion and who also rile against injustice. Because although others may not share our analysis of the solutions required they too understand the defining nature of second-class citizenship.
Sinn Fein is committed to the creation of a broad ranging Bill of Rights for the North as the first step towards enhancing and harmonising human rights standards throughout the island of Ireland. The achievement of greater and more equally shared prosperity, the promotion of equality of opportunity and fair participation in the labour market, the eradication of discrimination, and the empowerment and inclusion of marginalised and deprived communities and groups, are not only vital in themselves, but also have the capacity to create a more stable social environment in which new political arrangements are more likely to take root and command public confidence." ENDS
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